Arcade Fire singer claims concert audience "largest in music history," fans express concern

The biggest crowd during the festival (left) and the crowd at Arcade Fire’s set (right)

Win Butler, of indie-rock’s Arcade Fire, believes his band is even huger and more successful than anyone suspects. He claims that the crowd at one of his band’s recent shows was the largest in “music history.”

Such was the claim he tweeted at 4 a.m. on July 19, after the band's performance in Nyon, Switzerland, and—to the concern of many friends and fans—still stands by today.

Fans and media took notice immediately. The next morning, as Butler stepped onto the tour bus in Geneva with wife and band mate, Régine Chassagne, Julia Simpson, a reporter for regional television station Léman Blue, asked Butler about the tweet. The beaming singer shouted back, “Definitely the biggest crowd in the whole history of music!” while a crowd of nearby fans cheered.

The band’s official website and publicity firm have since been flooded by inquiries from music sites and news agencies, many of them citing far larger reported crowd sizes at concerts as far back as 1981.

That was the year of Simon & Garfunkel’s historic onstage reunion in New York, documented on the multiplatinum The Concert in Central Park, with its estimated 500,000 attendees. More recently, The Rolling Stones’ 2006 concert in Brazil had a crowd estimated at 1.5 million. Rod Stewart performed in Brazil before an estimated 3.5 million people in 1994.

Even so, Butler continued to double down on his claims. Via an email sent through Arcade Fire’s management, Butler said, “If writing about live music made you an expert in live music, I might take these challenges seriously. But the facts are well documented and clear enough to anyone with eyes. Just look at the photos taken from the stage during our set at Paléo Festival. It's pretty obvious that the crowd was absolutely record-breaking.”

Within hours, websites including Newsable, Newsworthy, and The New York Times posted photos comparing the crowd size at Arcade Fire's Nyon concert with those at a 1997 Moscow concert by electronic composer Jean-Michel Jarre, celebrating the Russian capital's 850th anniversary, which drew a crowd equal to Stewart’s. In response, Steve Martin, president of Arcade Fire's publicity firm Nasty Little Man, said, “Look, Arcade Fire drew the largest audience ever to witness a rock concert, period, both in person and around the globe.” When reached for comment, Arcade Fire’s manager, Scott Rodger, explained that Martin’s statement was merely an effort to provide mainstream media outlets with “alternative rock facts.”

That afternoon, Win Butler unleashed a tweetstorm on the subject.

When The Weekly ran Butler’s claims by Ron Delsener, New York chairman of Live Nation and 50-year veteran of the live-music business, his first response was laughter. “That guy’s gotta be out of his mind,” Delsener said. “The max capacity at Paléo Festival is 280,000. We had twice that many for Diana Ross in 1983!” Delsener added that it didn’t matter if the photos had been taken “during sound check or the Second Coming. It's not that big a space.” On July 25, Nasty Little Man hit back, posting a statement clarifying Butler's original claim and asserting that Butler's assessment included viewers who live-streamed the concert around the globe.

Fans have expressed concern about Butler’s comments, noting that they seemed to be part of a pattern of erratic behavior, including a strange promotional campaign for the band’s new album, Everything Now (which is out this Friday). “Arcade Fire is going bonkers”, one fan wrote.

When The Weekly reached out to people close to the band, they shared concerns about Butler’s mental state. “I think this all must've finally gone to his head,” said one person who preferred to remain anonymous, since he’s the band’s guitar technician. Another wondered if Butler might be having a personal crisis that could only express itself through blatant distortions of the truth. “I mean, this just isn’t Win,” said another close associate who is married to the singer. “I really don’t get where this is coming from. Crowd size isn’t something we talk about, really.”

This morning, Butler tweeted that Arcade Fire “had the biggest audience, ever, period,” then asked the media to turn its attention to “things that really matter.”